Helen Sheals Interview – Judy & Liza, Floral Pavilion, New Brighton

Judy & Liza
Image Source: Ticket Quarter

Show: Judy & Liza
Location: Floral Pavilion, New Brighton
Date: Friday June 4 2021
Times: 14.30 & 19.30
Running Time: 135 Minutes
Age Rating: 8+
Performers: Emma Dears & Helen Sheals
Production Companies: Bill Elms Productions & On Song Productions
Writer: Emma Dears
Musical Director: Francis Goodhand

Judy & Liza comes to New Brighton‘s Floral Pavilion on Friday June 4 2021. So, this production tells the true story of two all-time greats in Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli. And the show is something to behold from start to finish. But for this theatre production to succeed, you need top-level performers on the stage. And that’s what this show has in the form of Emma Dears and our interviewee today, Helen Sheals. So, read our interview below as we ask Helen Sheals about Judy & Liza, her incredible career thus far, and her future plans!

Judy & Liza – Helen Sheals

First of all, how much are you looking forward to performing in front of a theatre audience again?

I am very much looking forward to performing live again. Because it’s been such a long time and I miss the excitement. Plus, I miss sharing the experience of having a living, breathing audience to perform to.

You and Emma Dears would hold an intimate performance of Judy & Liza for Liverpool Theatre Festival last September. Now, given the unique location of the Bombed Out Church and the unusual circumstances, how did you find performing on that particular occasion?

Emma and I loved performing at the Bombed Out Church. It was the first time we had done the show in almost a year, and after months of lockdown it was such a release. Oh, and the audience was so up for it. So, it felt like coming home again. To me, it’s a very special venue with a wonderful atmosphere. Furthermore, singing Over The Rainbow whilst actually being able to see the open sky was an experience I’ll never forget.

Can you tell us more about the story of Judy & Liza?

The show is loosely based on the concert that Judy and Liza did at the London Palladium in 1964. And it tells the story – through song and narrative – of Judy’s journey from a child performer to MGM’s biggest star. Of course, this includes her marriages and the birth of her three children. From there, we move onto Liza’s story and her triumphant Oscar win in 1972 for the film Cabaret. So, it’s a funny and moving tribute to their lives, achievements and familial bond.

You play the role of Judy Garland in the show, with you also previously appearing in the West End musical Judy! in the title role. Therefore, I assume that you’re a longtime fan of hers?

I am a massive fan of Judy. And I have been since my teens. So, I was always fascinated by her and started to read as many biographies as I could find. And I found that I sympathised with and recognised many of her fears and insecurities. Judy had enormous appeal; her vulnerability was palpable. But she also exuded great strength and had a near genius level IQ. What’s more, she elevated everything she did into something special.

Now, you’ve had an incredibly varied career both on the stage and on the small stage. Take us back to the beginning; when did you first decide that you wanted to perform? And what would you consider to be your big break?

I started out in the industry as a contemporary dancer, having been a competitive gymnast as a teenager. So, I toured with a dance company for 12 months before deciding that I wanted to act. And, to be fair, I wasn’t that good a dancer! From there, I worked in musicals to begin with. And then, because of my physical skills, I was cast as a Spirit in Sir Anthony Quayle’s production of The Tempest. Now, this was the first ‘straight’ theatre I had ever done, and I loved it. But my ‘big break’ in theatre came when I played the title role in the regional premiere (Bristol Old Vic) and first national tour of The Rise and Fall Of Little Voice. And that made me the second person to ever play the now-iconic role originated by Jane Horrocks at The National.

It’s difficult to cover each television programme starring you over the years. But those that stand out include Brookside, Holby City, Downton Abbey and Coronation Street. So, which shows stand out to you the most from your career? And how would you adapt to each of these different shows using your ever-growing experience?

The television show that stands out to me the most is The Hello Girls. Now, The Hell Girls would be a BBC comedy drama about telephone operators in the 1950s. And it was a vehicle for Letitia Dean when she first left Eastenders. But it was only my second TV job, so I was bowled over to be cast as the fourth lead. And my role was the mischievous and rebellious Ronnie Ferrari. So, it was great fun to make ,and the camaraderie between all the characters in the piece was real. Indeed, it was one of the loveliest jobs I’ve ever had.

Also, Brookside was very special; I was in it for 13 months and played Jan Murray. Plus, the cast and crew were wonderful, and I loved living in Liverpool. Meanwhile, Downton Abbey was a blast. So, my part was quite small, I was a recurring guest, and I only appeared in about 6 episodes. But it was a great experience to be involved in what was to become such a successful series. And that’s despite the fact that I wore a grey wig, no make-up and a hugely uncomfortable corset!

Though you’ve appeared in many television programmes already, which shows would you like to appear then in the future?

It goes without saying that I would love to be cast as a regular character in a series again. So, I very much enjoyed the camaraderie of working with familiar people and really building up relationships with cast and crew on- and off-set. Yes, it’s a cliche, but you really do become a family. Also, I would love to go into Call The Midwife as it’s one of my favourite shows. Because it’s cosy, but it also does not pull any punches. Furthermore, it deals with some difficult social issues of the time. Additionally, it would be great to do some more period pieces like Bridgerton. But I also like social realism, as well as more stylised shows like The Queens Gambit. Oh, and a couple of years on Corrie would not go amiss!!

When did you first decide to expand your skill set towards the theatre stage? And what are the differences between performing to a TV audience and performing to a live theatre crowd?

I actually started out in theatre and had been working for a few years before I broke into TV. But the biggest difference of course is that, with live theatre, the audiences response is immediate. And that’s a great buzz. With TV, you are performing for the camera, so you don’t get that two-way relationship with your audience.

Are there any major theatre shows which you hope to participate in at some point in the future?

There are so many great shows, and I can’t wait until they’re all up and running again. So, I would love to work at The National, and it would be amazing to appear on Broadway. But one show I’d really like to do is Piaf by Pam Gems. Because it’s about Edith Piaf, another singer who I have a fascination with. So, I would love to play her.

Finally, for anyone who has yet to witness Judy & Liza, why should readers attend this show at the Floral Pavilion?

Please come and see Judy and Liza at the Floral Pavilion. Because Emma Dears is incredible as Liza. And also, allow me to quote a BAFTA award-winning friend of mine describing the show: ‘It’s amazing. The piece is really satisfying to watch, musically exciting, often surprising and extremely poignant. They have great chemistry, and it just works as they are so different. Beautiful, extraordinary; I’m still thinking about their performance. Sheer powerhouses.’

Judy & Liza – Helen Sheals Further Links

Judy & Liza starring Emma Dears and Helen Sheals comes to the Floral Pavilion on Friday June 4 2021. So, to purchase tickets, please click here.

For more information about this show, click here.

Read our previous review of this show by clicking here.

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